The News – Summer 2009

Published: Jun 21, 2009

Sketches to Shovels

Right now, the site is marked on campus maps as Parking Lots 9 and 16. But next summer, the university hopes that shovels will be busy breaking that ground to build a new $150 million Performing Arts and Humanities Facility.

At a forum held at UMBC in late April, architects showed off the latest plans for the new building, which is slated to be built in two phases between 2010 and 2014. The first phase will house the Theatre and English Departments – as well as the Dresher Center for the Humanities and the Linehan Scholars Program – and include a new 250-seat proscenium theater.

University planners hope to start the second phase immediately upon the completion of the first section in 2012. That piece of the project will give four additional departments – Music, Dance, Ancient Studies and Philosophy – new homes, and will be capped by new dance and concert halls. Both phases will include new classrooms.

In addition to being a linchpin of UMBC’s humanities education and a magnet for artistic events in the larger community, the university and the design team – Grimm and Parker Architects and William Rawn Associates – are also aiming for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. The new facility would be the first building on campus to qualify for this third-party rating of the building’s environmental efficiency.

The plans are contingent on approval of the funds by Maryland’s legislature next year.

— Richard Byrne ’86

Reconnecting Alumni

Greg Simmons ’04, M.P.P. was named UMBC’s Vice President for Institutional Advancement in late December – a position that includes leadership on alumni issues for the university. He has worked at UMBC in a number of positions, including stints at The Shriver Center, in Corporate Relations, and as a Special Assistant to the university’s president, Freeman A. Hrabowski, III.

UMBC Magazine talked with Simmons about his career, the recent $100 million campaign for UMBC and his vision for alumni relations in the next few years:

Q. How were you attracted to UMBC and to institutional advancement work?

I originally became connected with UMBC as an undergraduate, not even knowing that the work I was doing – as a tutor for at-risk kids – was a program that was run by UMBC. I was a tutor at Loyola College for the Choice Program. After I graduated, I went out West and spent a year working with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and then came back to Baltimore to work with the Choice Program as a case worker in East Baltimore.

During that that year, I started to understand — OK, there’s a university that runs the Choice program. And then at the end of that one year contract, I had the chance to move up to campus to run the undergraduate internship program. I got to interview with Michele Wolf and John Martello. I was actually applying for a job in community service, and John said, “Really, I see you as someone who’d be better working with the corporate community and the business community. Maybe you like community service, and you always can do that. But I see you working with a different stakeholder.” And I said, “All right, I’ll give that a try.”

So I ran the internship program for five years at the Shriver Center. And it was great. I met a lot of students and a lot of companies. What I really got a sense of was what [Freeman A. Hrabowski, III]’s mission was in terms of building relationships with companies, and getting people to understand the quality of UMBC through the partnerships that we have.

I see the internships and the full-time hiring as the base of the pyramid, and as I got more comfortable in understanding the different parts of the pyramid, I was interested in seeing what happened at the higher order of the pyramid. And when there was an opportunity to work in corporate relations, and fundraising, and corporate partnership development, I took that chance to work with [former UMBC Vice President, Institutional Advancement] Sheldon Caplis and with the president. I did that for a couple years before going to work directly for the president on a number of different initiatives. It was just a great experience. Almost an apprenticeship.

When the chance to come back to advancement came up, I took it for a couple of reasons. First, it was to see if I could take the things I learned with [President Hrabowski] and use them on a day to day basis. I wanted to be able to manage people. I wanted to be responsible for programs. I wanted to be able to build in some areas that I thought we could get stronger.

And as I stepped into this role, people asked me: “Did you ever see yourself being a professional fundraiser?” I don’t think anyone ever sees themselves as a professional fundraiser. I see myself as someone who cares deeply about this place. The programs and the people and the students. And it’s very easy for me to get excited about that. And whether it’s a company or an individual or a federal agency, I feel very good about helping people understand how their investment can make this place stronger. This place has given me a lot of tremendous opportunity. It’s introduced me to a lot of very smart and talented people. If I can take the skills and ability that I have to put those people and those programs in a place where they can be successful, that’s very exciting for me.

Q: UMBC is near the end of its $100 million campaign. What’s your assessment of that effort and its impact?

It is a big campaign for us. It’s only the second campaign that UMBC has ever had. And if you look at an institution of our profile and size, most of the research would say – and our own feasibility study suggested – that we could only do an $80 million dollar campaign. And we’re here, at the end of a seven year campaign, on the threshold of breaking $100 million. It’s a real testament to the people and the programs. The academic leadership. And the way that we’ve helped people in the region and across the country understand the value proposition of UMBC.

So to raise $100 million is a big deal. And it’s something that the entire campus community can take pride in.

As I think about what’s happening in the economy right now, and what has to happen going forward, we knew that because of our age and where our alumni are, that our alumni would have to have a role in this campaign. But we really need to see this campaign as a staging platform for the next campaign. Of our $100 million goal, the alumni portion of that was $3 million or 3 percent. So what we really are looking forward to now is “How can we help alumni see themselves as part of our fundraising going forward? How can they, in the future, have a bigger part in our fundraising, How they can really take pride in this place and invest in places that are going to make us stronger in the future.

It is a difficult time to raise money, whether you’re a business or a nonprofit. The things were doing now is letting people know what things are really important to us. Student based need, Particular programs where there are strengths – or where we have to invest heavily to continue the momentum. How do we help people see in a clear way the impact of their giving .That’s not something that we have always put a premium on – and it’s more important than ever, because peoples’ giving habits are changing.

Q: What’s your vision of alumni relations in the next few years?

I think we have to completely rethink how we connect with our alums. Geographically, we’re in a place where 90% of our alums are within 90 miles of campus. It’s a great opportunity. There are alums driving up and down I-95 every day to get to work or get home. But they can’t see the campus from the highway, and you almost forget that we’re right there…They haven’t had a chance to see how we’ve grown and changed.

My vision is: How do we make our alumni a central part of the campus on a daily basis. How do we make it easy for them to interact with our students and faculty? How do we become a destination for them, whether they’re looking for additional education, or they want to go to a lacrosse game or a basketball game, or whether they want to go to a theatre performance or meet an author or a scientist?

Nobody owes us their philanthropy. We have to make people understand why we’re deserving of it. And part of that is getting them to come here. Whether they’re a graduate from the 70s or graduating this year, we have to get them to understand that this is their place – and it can be as strong as they want it to be.

— Richard Byrne ’86

From Patapsco to Punts

When it comes to age, the University of Cambridge in England has a 757-year head start on UMBC. But more Retrievers are making the leap to graduate study at the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world these days – some of them via their selection for prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarships.

Three UMBC alumni – Ian Ralby ’02, modern languages and linguistics, M.A., intercultural communications, Simon Gray ’08, chemical engineering, and Philip Graff ’08, physics and mathematics – are currently enrolled at Cambridge through these highly-competitive awards. Two other UMBC alumni – Ian’s brother Aaron Ralby’ 05, modern languages and linguistics and Skylar Neil ’06, ancient studies – are also studying at Cambridge.

These alumni say that the Cambridge experience is different in many ways from their time at UMBC. “It’s a bit surreal,” says Neil, “attending lectures, going to formal dinner, conducting research in buildings older than one’s home country!”

Gray observes that the dress code shifts from black & gold sweats to black tie at many Cambridge events. “We wear academic gowns to dinner and formal attire is assumed for almost all events,” he reports. “I have worn my tuxedo more times this year than I can count, but ask any student here, and they will tell you that is par for the course.”

There are similarities between Catonsville and Cambridge as well – including an emphasis on hard work and hard play. “The rigorous academic environment is enhanced by strong social traditions and commitment to athletics.” says Aaron Ralby, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies. “There is a wonderful natural balance here between academic work, sports, and socializing.”

As a former rugby player at UMBC, Neil was eager to play in the country where the sport began. “I am set to play with the Blues team in our annual Varsity Match against Oxford in a little over a week,” he says, “an honor which probably would not have been possible without the time spent on the rugby pitches at UMBC.”

Those who made the journey from Catonsville to the banks of the River Cam say that UMBC prepared them well for the trip. “I have had some excellent professors at Cambridge,” says Gray, “but nothing to match some of the exceptional lecturers and professors I had at UMBC.”

Aaron Ralby agrees: “Rarely have I felt out of my depth, and whenever I’ve uncovered weaknesses in knowledge, my education at UMBC has provided the tools to go research, learn, and imbibe.”

As fond as she is of the academic rigors and the rugby, Neil reports that there are some things that she misses from her time at UMBC: “The Archaeology Department at Cambridge has been nothing but supportive since my arrival, and is well equipped for an incredibly vast range of research enquiries; however, I do sometimes find myself missing the familiarity and rapport of the Ancient Studies department at UMBC.”

— Matthew Morgal ’09

Green for Green

Think MTV and students and you likely conjure the image of Daytona Beach – and not harnessing biogas from farms. But UMBC Biodiesel Club members Nick Selock, Marsha Walker, Donterrius Ethridge and Angela Nealen may have you thinking again.

In March, just around the time that many students head off to spring break, the four UMBC chemical engineering students won $1,000 in MTV Switch’s “Dream It, Do It Challenge.”

Inspired by Indian inventors who have harnessed cow dung to convert into cheap and environmentally-friendly cooking gas, these four club members pitched their idea to harness horse manure collected at a farm in Burtonsville for conversion to methanol to earn their prize.

The Biodiesel Club has been a strong voice for green initiatives on campus, even powering their own vehicles with a “biodiesel brew” of used cooking oil from local restaurants.

Selock says the prize money “will enable us to purchase and set up an anaerobic digester to collect methane, which is a more potent and harmful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.”

For more information on the UMBC Biodiesel Club, please visit

— Chip Rose

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